Dale McKussic wants out…but no one’s going to make it easy for him.
‘His. years as a middleman in the narcotics business have been lucrative ones, but lately McKussic (MEL GIBSON) better known as Mac, has come to realize the far-reaching consequences of his chosen profession.
One person who doesn’t care for Mac’s decision is his ex-wife, who is accustomed to a style of living that a drug dealer’s salary can Support. To retain that lifestyle, she’s not above threatening to take away Mac’s custody of their son.
Mac’s cousin, Lindroff, a small-time hood, would also like Mac to stayin the business, if for no other reason than to find a way to cash in on his reputation.
On the other hand, there- is someone who would like- McKussic out of the narcotics game–Nick Frescia (KURT RUSSELL), Mac’s best friend since high school. However, Nick’s concern for his old friend is in part a professional one, because Nick
happens to be a cop. In fact, Nick’s superiors have ordered him to help Mac get out of the business–by putting him behind bars.
Despite the natural conflict of their respective careers, Mac and Nick still share many of the same interests that brought them together in high school–the roar of the surf, fast cars and attractive women. These interests recently include beautiful restaurant owner Jo Ann Vallenari (MICHELLE PFEIFFER). Mac has been a familiar figure at Vallenari’s restaurant for a number of years, considered nothing more to Jo Ann than a “good customer.” Mac’s constant patronage of the restaurant,
however, has caused police surveillance teams to wonder if his frequent culinary visits also include business dealings.
What bothers Nick is that his superiors aren’t interested in simply nabbing Mac. They’re hoping McKussic will lead them to Carlos, a big-time Latin American drug smuggler who has been – Mac’s friend ever since the two shared a Mexican jail cell;
Despite his serious intentions to turn away from his profession, Mac’s loyalty to Carlos has led him to handle one last “accounting problem” for his compadre.
As Mac and Nick work toward their respective goals, Jo Ann Vallenari finds herself caught in the middle, physically and emotionally drawn to both men. Ultimately she must choose between the two, despite Mac’s illicit past and unsure of his
real feelings for her, while at the same time wondering if Nick’s professed love is genuine or just a charade designed to use her to get to Mac and Carlos.
Warner Bros presents a Mount Company Production, starring Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell and Raul Julia in “Tequila Sunrise.” Written and directed by Robert Towne, the Warner Bros. release was produced by Thom Mount, with Tom Shaw as executive producer. The film was edited by Claire Simpson; production designed by Richard Sylbert;-director of photography was Conrad L. Hall, A.S.C., with music by Dave Grusin.
About the Production..:
Shortly after finishing the-first draft of his script for “Tequila Sunrise” in-1986, Robert Towne flew to Paris . to advise his friend, -Roman Polanski, on some aspects of the screenplay for the director’s most recent film; “Frantic.”
While in Paris, Towne showed his “Tequila Sunrise” – script to “Frantic” -producer Thom Mount; who was immediately taken with the project. “The script I read,” says Mount, “depicted a wonderful story about friendship; betrayal and
loyalty, what price those traits exact from us in life and what we’re willing to pay for them. What also struck me was that this was a truly adult film for our generation, like Towne’s ‘Shampoo’ (co-written by Towne and Warren Beatty) was 10 or 12 years earlier.” After discussing various casting ideas for the lead roles; Towne asked Mount to consider producing the film and Mount quickly agreed.
From the beginning of their association, there:was little doubt in the minds of Towne and Mount that Towne himself was meant to direct “Tequila Sunrise.” For Mount, that decision was another demonstration of the producer’s belief that the author of a film often has the keenest insights in bringing his characters to life on the screen, just as he did when he gave them life on the printed page.Mount previously.handed over the directorial reins to writer , Ron Shelton on the film “Bull Durham.”
As a producer I always try to support a specific passionate vision,” explains Mount. “‘Tequila Sunrise’ was a project very close to -Robert’s heart–a contemporary film about an area he grew up in and for which-he had a personal fondness. It’s also about characters Bob understood better than anyone else could.”
Although Robert Towne had not been in the director’s chair since the 1982 production of ‘Personal Best” (which he also wrote and produced), his wish to return to directing was chiefly dictated by the material he had written. “I think it was the sort of screenplay that wouldn’t neces-sarily translate very well in just_anybody’s-hands. Certain times and places in the dialogue must absorb certain rhythms
to be effective,” comments Towne:
For a writer who received three Oscar nominations, addition to receiving an Academy Award for his “Chinatown” screenplay, Towne’s attitude toward the written word is somewhat unexpected. “I’m not somebody-who necessarily believes in writing memorable or provocative -dialogue in a screenplay,” he states. “The lines themselves may be rather prosaic or even vulgar, but that breath an actor takes between the lines. is what makes them work and what gives them significance. I remember talking to an actress who looked at some scenes I had written and then she read them aloud. I tried to get her. to read the same scenes the way I heard them. She suddenly discovered the humor she missed on her first reading. didn’t seem funny on the page, be-cause she didn’t ‘.hear the lines as I did when I wrote them. It’s very difficult to try to convey those nuances to someone else. The direction of a film is not automatically written on a page.”
One of the biggest tasks Towne faced in writing and directing “Tequila Sunrise” was making Dale McKussici 4 man who earns his living as a drug dealer, someone that audiences could- feel sympathy for, as well as being the type of man with whom Jo Ann Vallenari could fall deeply in love.
“This is a story about drug dealing,” explains Towne, “but it’s also about love and friendship and what it takes to love somebody, whether it’s a guy who has been in trouble, like.McKussic, or a man who is in a respectable position, like Frescia.” For Towne, the central issue of honesty and trust is the focus for the actions of his characters.
“Jo Ann falls in love with the man who trusts her the most, the one who is consistently truthful to her. Because of his candor and honesty, she has enough faith in him to trust his future is what he tells her it’s going to-be regardless of the past.”
The concept of a love Strong enough to instill blind faith in someone like Jo Ann Vallenari was also why Towne assigned McKussic and Frescia totally divergent occupations.
“This point couldn’t be made as well if both characters were, for instance, rocket scientists. There just wouldn’t be as much of a choice for her,” says the director.
Towne was aided in lessening the severity of McKussic’s background with his choice of Mel Gibson to play the role.
Gibson was intrigued with McKussic’s checkered past and the inherent problems that arose from i “Mac was basically a middle man in the drug business, says Gibson of his character. “He was never exposed to the ugly reality of the
effects of drugs on kids, yet he did play a part in that.
I think he realizes that, which is why he’s so adamant about going legitimate. We find McKussic on the verge of some kind of change. He’s a man who’s never at ease because of his past and is, to a point, paranoid. Of course he has good reason, because People are watching his every move.”
“There was a kind of ’40s feel to the script that attracted me, and I wanted to work with Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell,” says Michelle Pfeiffer. Having just completed her tour-de-force performance in Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob,” Pfeiffer saw “Tequila Sunrise” as an opportunity to play a woman far removed from her part as Angela DeMarco, the wife of a mob enforcer. “Jo Ann is very ‘compartmentalized’ when we first meet her.
Everything in her life revolves around her business and anything beyond the restaurant has to fit around that schedule. As a result, everything is very controlled and very in order. When she finally lets go of that control after she gets involved with Mac and Nick–it becomes disastrous for her.”
For the role of Lt. Frescia, Towne chose Kurt Russell an actor not normally associated with an urbane,”Sophisticated image: A show business veteranof more than 28 years,
Russell’s career ranges from a string of Disney films to action/adventure pictures such as “The Thing” and “Escape From New York,” to comedy roles in “Swing Shift,” “Used Cars” and “Overboard.” He was critically acclaimed for his portrayal of Elvis Presley, yet for all of the time he spent in front of the cameras “Tequila Sunrise” remains the first film to show him as a cosmopolitan character.
“Kurt has always been capable of the work he did as Frescia, it just hasn’t been seen before,” says Towne.-“
“I-think it’s going to come as a•big surprise. Although he’s been acting in films for nearly 30 years, he’s still like a young kid. Right now, Kurt has reached a point where actors who have come of age in the business just barely become leading men: In that sense, it’s just a ” grown-up role for him.”
To prepare for their roles, Gibson, Pfeiffer and Russell were offered technical advice from real-life counterparts of their characters; a retired drug dealer, a’woman who managed an exclusive restaurant and a narcotics detective. For the most part, this luxury proved to be unnecessary for the actors, as Robert Towne had already done their preparation for them when he wrote the script.
“It was all there on paper,” recalls Kurt Russell. ‘ “Everything my character does is total reality. The attitude and actions- of the character are real. When the script is given you and it’s right, the homework’s already been done.”
Towne heavily researched his characters and the validity of the situations he was putting them into long before the first frame of film was exposed. “I called upon people who. knew a lot about the backgrounds of my characters.
I began with the dramatic structure and asked those I was loosely basing these characters on how they would fit into the structure. I relied very much on their experiences to give me a sense of how they would react to.the.events in my
story,” comments Towne. “If anything likethe particular situation ever happened to them, I-found out how they reacted.
I modified events that seemed unsuitable for the characters that developed as a result of my conversations with these real people.”
Principal photography on:”Tequila Sunrise” commenced in February 1988, in the South Bay .section of Los Angeles, an area in which Robert Towne felt quite at home. In actuality, the filming Was a case of the local boy returning home to make his film, Towne having been raised in Redondo Beach and its environs. Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, San Beach, Venice and Santa Monica all served as shooting locations. The actors often took advantage of their-surroundings during shooting breaks. Residents of the area, as well as beach goers, were somewhat surprised to find Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell taking in the afternoon sun, but nonetheless more than happy to share their turf with the three stars.
Rather than film the interior scenes at a studio, Robert Towne opted to remain closer to the actual locations in his story. To accomplish this, a vacant warehouse in Santa Monica was pressed into service as a soundstage.
Needing control over the elementsas well as seclusion in order.to film some of Mac and Jo Ann’s more private moments together, an exact duplicate of the two-story Manhattan Beach-residence used in the movie as Mac’s home was erected, complete with courtyard and hot tub. Despite the enormity of the building, the structure was able to fit in half of the spacious warehouse.
The other half of the warehouse was able to accommodate the interior of Valienari’s -restaurant, wine cellar and kitchen. Although it is-usually-standard:procedure for a propmaster to prepare the food that will be eaten by the actors on camera; the filmmakers decided to lend even more authenticity to these scenes. Gourmet chefs from some of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles were brought in to cook the food eaten by Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell, as well as the dozens of extras seated at surrounding tables in the restaurant set.
At the completion of principal photography, the cast and crew of “Tequila Sunrise” held their wrap party at LA’s most exclusive restaurant–Vallenariis.,